Jennea Welch on stage at Lees-McRae

Jennea Welch takes the stage at Lees-McRae

Jennea Welch, daughter of Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, is no stranger to the spotlight. She grew up going on tour with her father’s band and later accompanied him onstage as he spoke to audiences around the world about his faith. But with her recent visit to Lees-McRae, which was her first official speaking engagement without her dad, Welch is telling her story on her own terms, for her own reasons.

Welch was born at the peak of the band’s success. From the beginning, she was in the public eye.

“I found out a few years ago that my birth was announced on MTV,” she said.   

The early years were rocky. Both of her parents dealt with substance abuse and her father was often absent as the band toured internationally. When Welch was three years old, her mother left the family. From that point on, Brian Welch had full custody of his daughter, which meant taking Jennea along when the band went on the road.

“When you’re a kid, you’re experiencing things for the first time,” Welch said. “That’s your normal. But dealing with both parents who had addictions really affected my mental health and self-image in general.”

When Welch was around six years old, her father experienced a religious conversion. He left Korn, stopped using drugs, and moved with his daughter to Phoenix. However, Welch still struggled because of the traumatic experiences of her early years and the lack of stability she had become used to.

“When I reached middle school, the trauma of my mom leaving and not having my dad in my life really started to hit me,” Welch said. “Instead of experiencing it for the first time, I looked back on it and hurt. I felt like I was missing something. All my friends had both their parents, or had normal-ish lives, and I felt out of place and not bonded to anybody or anything.”

Welch began feeling depressed and using social media as a crutch, since she lacked the skills to form meaningful relationships in real life. She also began self-harming.

“I was hurting so bad,” Welch said, “but I didn’t know how to communicate that to anyone.”

Jennea Welch, Tiffany Claywell, and Katie Talbert address students in the Career and Life Planning class outside Tate Hall. (HD Stewart)
Students meet outside Tate Hall to hear from Jennea Welch and Tiffany Claywell. (HD Stewart)

Things changed for Welch when her father met Tiffany Claywell at a concert for his Christian band Love and Death. Claywell worked with troubled children and teens, so Brian would often turn to her for advice. When Welch was 14, she moved to Lafayette, Indiana to be part of a residential experience called Awakening Youth that Claywell organized as an alternative to traditional in-patient youth treatment facilities.

“I worked in treatment facilities for years, and I saw abuse and things that as a director I couldn’t continue with,” Claywell said. “There has to be innovation in this field. There has to be advocacy for kids who have lost a parent because they’re getting diagnosed bipolar or borderline personality.”

In some cases, Claywell said, the trauma from losing a parent to addiction, adoption, death, or divorce can result in behaviors that can be mistaken for mental illness symptoms, leading to misdiagnoses. To meet the needs of these young people who might get lost in the system, she developed an experience that provided girls and women aged 13 to 23 with a stable living environment and a safe place to develop life and social skills. The experience included trips around the country to introduce the girls to new cultures and guidance on basic skills like how to go to the store or the doctor and how to do chores.

“I never had a chore in my life,” Welch said. “I didn’t know how to sweep the floor.”

While most girls spent around 18 months with Awakening Youth, Welch stayed involved throughout high school. After graduating from Full Sail University with a BFA in Creative Writing, she continued with Awakening Youth as a staff member. She credits Awakening Youth with saving her life. And now, the 22 year old wants to provide a similar life-changing experience to other young people facing parental loss.

At first, Welch did not have the option of choosing whether or not to be open about her experiences. She was born into the public eye, and as a teenager was featured in the documentary “Loud Krazy Love” alongside her dad. As Claywell put it, “privacy was never an option” for Welch. With this initiative to reach out to children and young adults dealing with the loss of a parent, Welch is taking full control of her story for the first time.

“What I had is not accessible to kids right now,” Welch said. “It’s either treatment facilities where they’re being abused or counseling with a stranger once a week that’s barely scratching the surface. I believe in what I experienced (with Awakening Youth) so much that I want to share it wherever I can and help kids who had the same experience as me.”

Welch has so far reached out through her YouTube channel, where she posts videos offering both mental health advice and insights into her life, and on social media. The Lees-McRae event, she hopes, will be the first of many speaking engagements.

Welch and Claywell drove in to Banner Elk from Indiana, along with Welch's new puppy Blue, to talk to students. They met outside with students from the Career and Life Planning class (CLA 299) during the day, then spoke to an audience of students, faculty, and staff at Evans Auditorium in the Cannon Student Center in the evening. Welch discussed her goals with her outreach and some of her own struggles growing up, explaining that she wanted the students in the audience to understand that they weren’t alone in their experiences.

The two also took student questions, addressing issues like forgiving parents, discovering your own identity, and building a personal relationship with God. One student asked how Welch managed to use social media in a healthy way. Welch explained that she has to set boundaries for herself, like only checking her accounts for a limited amount of time, and remember to stay present and grounded in real life.

Another student asked about Welch’s relationship with her parents.

“I’m still learning,” Welch answered. “It comes in waves. Sometimes I feel like I’m healed, but then something happens and I’m like, ‘it still hurts!’”

Claywell counseled the students to avoid being too hard on themselves, and reminded them that healing is a process. She also offered advice for those with friends who are struggling.

Both women invited anyone who had experienced parental loss to reach out to them via social media. Their goal, Welch explained, is to build a community of people who have faced loss and use a group dynamic to overcome trauma. Through her social media, YouTube channel, and speaking engagements, Welch wants to show young people that they are not alone and that they can live happy, healthy lives, even if they don’t have extensive financial resources.

“A lot of people say ‘how do I relate to a rock star’s daughter, but it was addict parents,” Welch said. “That’s all it was. Losing a parent creates depression and anxiety in children. I just want to spread that message and bring awareness to it, and help people find healing the way that I did.”

If you are struggling mentally or emotionally and need support, reach out to Counseling Services for help>>

By Emily WebbMarch 23, 2021
Campus Life